The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Cold-weather car care tips from pros who keep CU rolling

Anh-Khoi Pham
Students dress in layers to stay warm as they walk to class on Jan. 17.

Each year, winter’s icy grasp pervades every aspect of life in the American Midwest. The days grow shorter, the winds grow chillier and amid the good cheer of the holiday season hides the inescapable reality that the weather will test the mettle of humans and machinery throughout a dismally cold few months.

Not least of the affected parties this time of year are vehicles. While vital to everyday activities, these ton-and-a-half hunks of power and utility can suffer significant detriment if abandoned to the winter’s wrath.

The professionals of Champaign-Urbana’s automotive scene have helped the region’s cars through many a Midwestern winter and know exactly what it takes to coax a vehicle through this trying season. Here’s everything you need to know to steer clear of danger this winter.


The basics

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In many cases, the techniques of car care don’t change at all, but the importance of them does. With the additional strain provided by the bitter cold, regular maintenance becomes paramount.

“Probably the most important thing that I would say is that your car battery is in good condition,” said Joe Patton, the owner of Average Joe Auto Repair, a cornerstone of car care in Champaign since 1986.

Patton and others emphasized the importance of testing a car’s battery as well as replacing it when it becomes too old, stating that once a battery reaches four or five years old, it can be trouble.

While a car isn’t going anywhere without a functioning battery, it’s pointless to operate one without clear vision, making windshield wipers and their accouterments a major point of emphasis.

“You get snowy, yucky days — you’ve got to get that all cleaned up,” said Cindy Russell, office manager and service writer at Peter B’s Automotive, a mainstay of the Urbana auto repair landscape.

Russell stressed the importance of checking the condition of the wiper blades and confirming that the washer fluid is filled up to ward away snow and retain clear vision.

One other commonality noted by several repair professionals is the importance of checking the coolant, a fluid that is pivotal for preventing overheating in the engine. Confirming a vehicle is loaded up with the proper substance can be key to staying on the roads this time of year.

“We should also be sure that the freeze protection is good to at least 34 degrees,” Russell said.

Other vital checkboxes include inflating tires to their designated levels and checking lights, according to Patrick Spegal, the owner of Urbana’s KCM Auto Care. Additionally, Spegal urged vehicle owners to stay in touch with their local shops to prevent and address any unforeseen issues and complete regular maintenance procedures.


You might not know…

While the basics of auto care become even more important in cold weather, some homespun wisdom from the veterans of the Central Illinois car repair scene could be the difference between rolling merrily along or succumbing to the elements.

While few car owners think twice about the gas they siphon into their vehicle, often chasing convenience or the lowest price, Patton states that owners should at least be cognizant of the fuel’s quality.

“Fill at a station that you trust for gas, even if it’s a bit more expensive,” Patton said. “You want the gas to be as good a quality as possible.”

Patton noted that while contaminated gas isn’t as prevalent these days as it was in the past, filling up at the wrong station can have costly impacts on a car’s health, especially in more rural regions.

But regardless of what’s in the tank, it’s important to give it some time to ramp up.

While all cold-weather motorists hold their breath as their engine coughs and chokes before springing to life, the successful ignition is only half the battle, according to Spegal.

“Don’t just hop in and go,” Spegal said, stating that drivers should let their engines run for a few minutes before dashing through the snow.

However, even the best-laid plans can sometimes be overcome by the iron will of winter, and it’s important to remain vigilant about the possibility.

“I do recommend keeping a cold weather emergency kit,” Spegal said.

In addition to the potentially life-saving necessities like coats and blankets, Spegal also advises another less-conventional countermeasure against the cold.

“They sell those little Bunsen burners in case you need to melt snow or warm hands,” Spegal said.

It might not be easy to sustain a colossal chunk of brilliantly engineered metal as it is buffeted by snow, hail and vicious cold, but with decades worth of Midwestern know-how and a keen eye, you can keep your wheels churning throughout the chilliest time of the year.


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About the Contributor
Ethan Oskroba
Ethan Oskroba, Senior Copy Editor
Hi all! My name is Ethan and I’m a junior majoring in journalism. I transferred over to Illinois in Fall 2023 and immediately jumped into The Daily Illini. I’ve penned features on a wide range of topics throughout my time here. Before coming to Illinois, I discovered my love for journalism at Trinity International University as the Editor-in-Chief of the school’s student publication. I used to play college baseball over there too, but now that I’m past my prime, I enjoy intramural and fantasy sports as well as board games, Mario Kart and chilling with friends.
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